NEW YORK - The Columbia fencing team concluded a long but wildly successful regular season Friday when it won three of four matches at the Historical Meet, and bade farewell to four fencers seeing their final collegiate action. The Lions swept two matches from NYU, 18-9 in the men's meet and 19-8 in the women's, and took one of two from Sacred Heart, beating the SHU women, 16-11, but dropping a 15-12 nail-biter to the SHU men. The men's team finished with a 27-3 record, the nation's top ranking, and co-possession of the 2014 Ivy League title. The women's team concluded its season with a 23-7 record, third place in the Ivy League, and a fifth-place national ranking. It all began back on November 22, when the fencers went 5-0 at their own Columbia Invitational, in University Gym. Friday's matches, a makeup of the Historical Meet that was snowed out February 5, were held one floor below, in the fencing room, as University Gym was occupied by the Columbia-Harvard wrestling meet. The meet saw the final appearances of four competitors -- seniors Camille Gallardo, Melvin Rodriguez, and Alex Pensler, and junior Kyle Doyle, who plans to graduate in three years. All saw considerable action in the Historical Meet, as head coach Michael Aufrichtig rested most of his starters, and utilized fencers who played reserve roles during the season. Only four regular starters saw action in the meet. Camille Gallardo was one of the seniors making a final appearance in a Columbia uniform. Four years ago, she had come to Morningside Heights from Los Angeles a highly-rated epee fencer, but medical problems had cost her most of her college career. Just a month after a hospital stay, she had come to the Historical Meet not expecting to fence. But she soon found herself on the strips, fencing sabre, no less. "I wasn't going to fence," Gallardo said, shortly after the meet's conclusion, "but I was happy to be able to participate. It was fun fencing sabre again." Gallardo was a perfect 3-0 in the win over NYU, the best mark on the 5-4 sabre squad, finishing 4-2 on the evening -- half of sabre's eight wins for the meet. "I'm going to miss the team, and Columbia," she said. "The Columbia Lions are my family." Alex Pensler had tailed off after a successful first two years as a Columbia foil fencer. When he took the strips Friday, it was his first competition since December. Pensler, a Chicago resident, was 2-0 against NYU and 3-2 for the evening. He still remembers his first college competition -- against Stevens Tech in the 2011 NYU Invitational. "I don't remember if I won or lost," he said, "just that our team defeated them." Looking back, he regards his decision to attend Columbia "as the best choice, fencing and academics. If I could, I would do it another four years." Melvin Rodriguez made the most of his final collegiate fencing action, as he went 5-1, the best of any Columbia men's fencer. He was 2-1 against NYU, and a perfect 3-0 against a tough Sacred Heart sabre squad. The Bronx resident still remembers his first collegiate bout, against North Carolina in the NYU Invitational, and probably will never forget his last. It came at a crucial time, as Columbia was fighting for the lead against Sacred Heart. "I knew it was my last bout," he recalled. "It was against Tommy Gerrity; I've fenced him every year for four years. But I tried to focus on fencing, not on that." Mel netted the first touch of the bout, and led most of the way. Ahead by 4-2, he scored what he assumed was the winning touch, and let out a roar. But the official didn't agree, awarding the point to Gerrity. "I thought that was my touch," Rodriguez insisted. "But then I [told myself] to get over it, to move on to the next touch." That elusive winning touch came quickly for Mel. "I took my time until the distance between us was just right, and finished with a nice attack." When the light went off, and the official agreed, Mel let out a roar, and sank to his knees. His Columbia fencing career had ended in triumph. Rodriguez and his two fellow sabre fencers, Chris Ahn and Michael Costin, both first-years, each won in the final round to draw the Lions within one at 11-10. But Sacred Heart won four of the final six bouts to sew up the victory. The win was Sacred Heart's, but for a quartet of Lions, the final memories were all theirs. Columbia will compete in the all-important NCAA Northeast Regionals Sunday, March 9, at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass.
The Historical Meet (Columbia, NYU, Sacred Heart) Fencing Room, Dodge Physical Fitness Center Friday, February 21, 2014
MEN'S TEAM (1-1) 18-9 NYU, 12-15 Sacred Heart WOMEN'S TEAM (2-0) 19-8 NYU, 16-11 Sacred Heart